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DID YOU KNOW?: Airway sculptures designed to resemble cacti

EL PASO, Texas - The City of El Paso sent out its Holiday Greeting video this week, wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and saying just wait until 2017.

The one-minute animated video references San Jacinto Plaza, the Socorro Mission, and the Airway light sculptures and turbines.

One thing that piqued our interest was the scene featuring the sculptures. Under a photo, the caption reads, "We don't have much snow here, but what do we care? We have unique cacti that spin in the air!".

Some here at ABC-7 were surprised to learn the sculptures were cacti.

According to a blog featuring projects by Vicki Scuri, the artist behind the sculptures, the sculptures were inspired by "native plants, specifically local cacti."

To watch the video, click here.



"In the spring of 2013, we started the redesign of the Airway Aesthetic Improvement Project, introducing light sculptures and functional turbines with armatures to promote a gateway aesthetic at I-10 and Airway. Airway is the busiest intersection in El Paso, and it marks the way to Downtown and to the El Paso International Airport. This review captures moments during the fabrication process and the installation of the turbines and light sculptures. 

By the spring of 2014, we were fully engaged in fabrication of all elements. The first prototypes are featured at CAID Industries in Tucson, AZ. These forms are approximately 9' tall by 6' wide. Their forms are inspired by airfoils and the geometry of local cacti.

The turbine armatures enhance the functional poles and create a dialogue with the related sculptural forms. Our inspiration comes from the shapes of wings, airfoils and native plants, specifically local cacti.

We selected a white, shiny, hard-gloss paint finish in order to maximize light reflection, both during the day when the sun and sky influence color reflection and during the night when programmable LED illumination will up-light the forms with transitioning hues.

Throughout the evening, the turbines are modified by the programmable LED lighting and the sky. Here the turbines take on a landscape characteristic and interact with the matching hues of the evening sky. The lighting is programmed to reflect the seasons. Also, it is inspired by the bright hues of Mexican blankets. Below, is a diagram of the lighting hues used for the four programmed seasonal shows. From left to right, each column of colors represents a season: spring, summer, fall and winter. As El Paso's seasons are transitional, the color selections reflect this. There are 52 hues in each show, one for each week of the year.

The turbines require winds of 10-30 miles per hour in order to spin and generate electricity. The electricity generated by these turbines is added back into the power grid for the City. The turbines, created by UGE, are both functional and graceful. We added armatures, suggesting airplane wing forms, to transform the turbines and their poles into works of art, creating a more organic look and feel. These are complemented by lines of low illuminated sculptures that suggest desert cacti that are about to bloom.

Blossoming is an apt metaphor for the site and the community. Airway is a community that is blossoming with many new improvements to the site and the neighborhood. Once a "dead zone," Airway is beginning to thrive with visitors and local alike, who frequent the new hotels, the Flame Room and nearby Starbucks.

The concrete patterning design work is created by using a CNC router and a variety of software programs to image the work in 3D. Initially, the surface was designed in Rhino, using Grasshopper, a parametric design program. Later, the work was redrawn in Solid Works, to create more curvilinear forms and movement. The inspiration is both the wind and the geometric patterning of cacti. The overall relief is 4″ deep, which allows for the surface to read in El Paso's bright light and deep shadows. The infrastructure is oriented on a north-south axis, with difficult sun angles."

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